By TRICIA HILL
We see and hear the trains come through Boscobel quite often, but have you ever wondered what the life of the train engineer is like? Anyone who attended the presentation given by Bud Hoekstra of Shell Lake on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at the Tuffley Community Center was given a brief idea of the life of an engineer from the dangers to the joys. The presentation was made possible through the work of Robin Orlandi, Director of the Hildebrand Memorial Library.
Hoekstra worked 42 years as a train engineer for both the Illinois Central and the Wisconsin Soo Line railroads. During those 42 years Hoekstra said his fondest memory would have been when he helped a little boy find a home for his beagle.
Hoekstra recalled the day when he and his co-workers were waiting at the “J” to show up at Collins Street in Joliet, Illinois with about 105 black diamonds when a boy about the age of 10 came over by the men and sat down with his pet beagle. He explained to Hoekstra and his crew that he needed to find a new home for his beagle.
“I didn’t think I could keep it either, but I thought that I could find someone that could,” Hoekstra said.
So the boy let Hoekstra take the dog with him on the train. Hoekstra said that with it being hard as it was to climb onto the locomotive, it was even worse trying to climb up while holding a squirming beagle. Once they had gotten into the locomotive, Hoekstra set down the beagle and was surprised to see it jump up into the engineer’s seat. Hoekstra let the beagle remain in his seat, as he stood behind and pulled the throttle to get the train in motion.
“I thought it would be humorous to see how the citizens of Joliet would react when they saw a 14,000 ton locomotive being ran by a beagle,” Hoekstra said.
This was Hoekstra’s favorite story because he felt it didn’t make the railroad look too smart to pay engineers for what a dog would do for free.
Hoekstra did, however, keep his promise to the young boy and the beagle went home with their Chief Clerk.
Train vs. semi
Even though the beagle story was one of Hoekstra’s fondest memories of his career, he said he could never forget about the three near-death experiences he experienced over the years.
One of those occurred on Sept. 25, 1989 when a semi trailer was on the track as Hoekstra’s locomotive was passing through.
Generally, traffic is heeded by a warning of bells and flashing lights followed by gates blocking the railway. However, that was not the case at this railway in Hopkins, Minn. At this railway there was a stop sign on one side of the road and a stoplight on the other. By the time Hoekstra noticed the semi trailer on the track, he had no other choice but to pull the emergency break and hope for the best. The locomotive was not able to come to a halt and ran through the trailer.
“I remember it looking like Christmas when I walked back to the crossway as it was covered with sugar and dish detergent that had flown everywhere from the trailer,” Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra said he would never forget the accident, as it was a miracle that anyone survived.
Book of experiences
Once Hoekstra retired from his engineer lifestyle, he had experienced many things as a railroad worker and he wanted to share those experiences with everyone. So that is when Hoekstra and his wife Jerilyn decided to work together to write a book entitled “The Life and Times of a Railroad Engineer.”
Hoekstra worked on his book for about two years off and on. Once Hoekstra had the book written his wife Jerrilyn typed the book up for him.
White Birch Printing published Hoekstra’s book in the United States in 2012.
Hoekstra’s said his point behind the book is to give an introspective look at a man’s career while expressing the positives and the negatives of the railroad industry past, present and future.
Hoekstra’s book “The Life and Times of a Railroad Engineer” contains 320 pages, including pictures and assorted maps with graphics. It is currently available at the Hildebrand Memorial Library in Boscobel and can also be ordered for $25 by contacting Hoekstra at (715) 468-7759.